Summary : This is your chance to be part of a truly unique expedition voyage! Just south of Snow Hill lies an emperor penguin rookery of over 4,000 breeding pairs. Although the ice may not allow the expedition to reach as far south as Snow Hill, the hope is to situate between the Antarctic Sound and James Ross Island, close to the ice-edge, and observe emperor penguins on their way to open water. Set out on a helicopter excursion in search of individual emperor penguins, landing in places otherwise inaccessible so early in the season. If conditions are favorable and the route to Snow Hill Island is free of multi-year pack ice, ship-to-shore helicopter transfers to Snow Hill Island (as carried out successfully in 2013, 2017, and 2018) followed by a 45-minute walk to the emperor penguin rookery will be attempted. The Weddell Sea is known for its huge tabular icebergs, chinstrap and gentoo penguins, various other bird-species, and elephant seals around Half Moon Island.
Activities : Birding, Hiking, Triple/Quad Cabins
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$11,500 to $15,100
Your voyage begins where the world drops off. Ushuaia, Argentina, reputed to be the southernmost city on the planet, is located on the far southern tip of South America. Starting in the afternoon, you embark from this small resort town on Tierra del Fuego, nicknamed “The End of the World,” and sail the mountain-fringed Beagle Channel for the remainder of the evening.
Over the next two days on the Drake Passage, you enjoy some of the same experiences encountered by the great polar explorers who first charted these regions: cool salt breezes, rolling seas, maybe even a fin whale spouting up sea spray. After passing the Antarctic Convergence—Antarctica’s natural boundary, formed when north-flowing cold waters collide with warmer sub-Antarctic seas—you are in the circum-Antarctic upwelling zone. Not only does the marine life change, the avian life changes too. Wandering albatrosses, grey-headed albatrosses, black-browed albatrosses, light-mantled sooty albatrosses, cape pigeons, southern fulmars, Wilson’s storm petrels, blue petrels, and Antarctic petrels are a few of the birds you might see.
Please remember that nature writes the final itinerary in Antarctica. This is a sample only, the final itinerary will be determined by the expedition leader on board after consideration of the prevailing weather conditions.
You may sail into the Weddell Sea via the Antarctic Sound. Here huge tabular icebergs herald your arrival to the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula. During this part of the cruise, the search is on for emperor penguins. Using both the vessel and helicopters, there’s a good chance you’ll find them. You might also enjoy scenic flights and—if conditions allow—helicopter landings in locations otherwise out of reach this time of year.
Helicopter flights are a true trip changer, and may include:
Western slopes of Antarctic Sound – The western side of this area is only rarely seen from the air, though the landscape is truly worth the flight: Layered sandstones, lava flows, glaciers, icebergs, and pack ice extend as far as the eye can see. There are often individual Emperor penguins and Adélie penguins on the ice floes, as well as kelp gulls, skuas, and various breeds of petrel. Jagged mountain peaks stab through the snow, and enormous walls of ice lie shattered on the slopes below.
Duse Bay – A soaring helicopter flight may deposit you on a rocky hillock close to an old refuge hut overlooking this bay. There’s still a lot of snow and ice this time of year, but much of the walk in this location is over frost-shattered rock covered with lichen of all shapes and colors.
Seymour Island – This is where the Swedish Antarctic Expedition of 1901–1904 wintered under harrowing polar conditions. Sedimentary rock, fossils, and expansive views define this location.
If conditions allow for deeper ventures into the Weddell Sea, Zodiac trips may include:
Devil Island – Home to a large colony of Adélie penguins, this island offers a magnificent vantage point for hikers willing to foot it to the top of the hill. Melting ice sometimes forms a waterfall dropping from the cliffs close to Cape Well-met.
Brown Bluff – Maybe the most scenic location in the entire northern tip of the Antarctic Continent: sheer canyon walls, fallen boulders, beautiful volcanic creations capped with ice. A large Adélie penguin rookery lives here but gentoo penguins and nesting snow petrels can also be found.
Gourdin Island – Chinstrap, gentoo, and Adélie penguins love this island, which is yet another landing option for your continuing Antarctic adventure.
Esperanza Base – This Argentine research station, which operates year-round and is one of only two civilian settlements in Antarctica, could serve as an alternative landing site.
Day 5-6: Alternative program if the route to Snow Hill Island is free of multi-year pack-ice (less than 50% probability): Helicopters provide an advantage in reaching the emperor penguin colony, but nature makes the rules in Antarctica. If conditions are favorable, you’ll spend the first two days at the penguin rookery. The helicopter operation takes a full day, and the flight duration is approximately 15 minutes. Each helicopter can accommodate 4–6 passengers per flight, and the landing site is carefully chosen so that the penguins are not disturbed. Upon arrival to the site, it is about a 45-minute walk to the rookery. Please keep in mind that you are in one of the world’s most remote areas: There are no guarantees. Conditions may change rapidly, which can have a profound impact on helicopter operations.
In the morning, sail to Deception Island for the last landing of the voyage, either at Pendulum Cove or Whalers Bay. Conditions on the Drake Passage determine the exact time of departure.
Your return voyage is far from lonely. While crossing the Drake, you’re again greeted by the vast array of seabirds remembered from the passage south. But they seem a little more familiar to you now, and you to them.
Every adventure, no matter how grand, must eventually come to an end. Disembark in Ushuaia with memories that will accompany you wherever your next adventure lies.
Read this itinerary as a guide only; seeing the emperor penguins is not guaranteed. The exact route and program varies according to ice and weather conditions – and the wildlife you encounter. Flexibility is the key to the success of this expedition. ExpeditionTrips is not responsible for itinerary changes.
Mandatory Travel Insurance:
As a requirement of participation on this expedition, all passengers must purchase travel insurance including medical, accident, and a minimum of $100,000 in repatriation/evacuation insurance. Furthermore, the shipping company strongly recommends obtaining trip cancellation insurance. ExpeditionTrips strongly recommends at least $200,000 Emergency Medical/Evacuation coverage for Antarctic trips which includes coverage for cancellation, trip disruption, baggage and personal property. Other conditions may apply based on pre-existing conditions. ExpeditionTrips can assist U.S. residents with travel protection options.
Please Note: All voyages will operate subject to a minimum of 70 participants.
The vessel will be equipped with two helicopters. The use of helicopters allows access to scheduled landing sites that would otherwise be inaccessible. If ice, weather and other conditions are suitable, the captain will position the vessel at a safe and (for the helicopters and helicopter pilots) feasible distance from the intended landing site. Helicopter transfers are included in the price of the trip; however, every passenger who participates must understand and accept that no guarantees can be given in regards to: 1. reaching scheduled landing sites or 2. the specific amount of helicopter time they will experience. Please contact ExpeditionTrips for details.
Pre-scheduled group transfer from the ship to the airport in Ushuaia directly following disembarkation; during voyage, ship-to-shore helicopter transfers (with no specific amount of helicopter time guaranteed); luggage transfer from pick-up point to the vessel on day of embarkation in Ushuaia; shipboard accommodations; all shore excursions and activities throughout the voyage by Zodiac; program of lectures by noted naturalists and leadership by experienced expedition staff; gear on loan (rubber boots); all meals onboard the ship; snacks, coffee, and tea; all miscellaneous service taxes and port charges throughout the program. Inclusions subject to change without notice.
Any airfare; pre- and post-land arrangements; transfers to the vessel in Ushuaia; passport and visa expenses; government arrival and departure taxes; meals ashore; travel insurance, including medical, accident, and repatriation/evacuation insurance (required); baggage, cancellation and personal insurance (strongly recommended); excess baggage charges and all items of a personal nature such as laundry, bar, beverage charges, and telecommunication charges; and gratuities. Fuel surcharge may apply.
PHOTOS: © Franco Banfi; © James Cresswell; © Wim van Passel; © Rinie van Meurs; © Hans Murre, © Oceanwide Expeditions